Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran tell Deborah Cicurel about their new play and how a chance meeting set them on track to success. Deborah tweets HERE.
You may have seen The New Statesman, listened to Von Ribbentrop’s Watch or sat through the musical Dreamboats and Petticoats. And you might have booked tickets for an upcoming play, Love Me Do, without ever realising that all these hits, and many more, were written by a Jewish duo who met at a Finsbury Park youth club in the 1960s – and who can’t, and won’t, stop writing.
Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran have written political satires, crime movies, comedy dramas, and now a new play, Love Me Do, which opened this month.
The play occurs against the dramatic backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and focuses on two wildly different people, Dorothy and Shack, who find themselves stuck in London – and fall in love.
“She is a woman in her thirties, a housewife who’s never been out of America but gets invited to a wedding in London,” Gran explains.
“Shack is from New York, very sophisticated, who’s never been in a relationship. He works in the embassy in London. They don’t hit it off straight away – but that’s how it goes.”
Fortuitous moments like these are key to the play – and also give an insight into the lives of its writers. Marks and Gran fell into writing professionally almost by chance, when Marks, working as a researcher for ITV, missed a flight and ended up on a train opposite the legendary comedy writer and producer Barry Took.
He not only read the duo’s scripts but introduced them to an influential radio producer who helped launch their career.
“I’ve never thought about it in those terms but that is astute,” Gran says at the suggestion that coincidences might play more than a passing role in their work.
“All drama has to have an inciting incident, a chance moment that throws people together. When you’re looking for an idea, you’re looking for ways to bring people together and lots of our shows are based on that.”
I can’t quite decide whether Love Me Do is more of a comedy, a drama, a love story, a political satire or all those things. “It’s a mix of things and that’s why we are looking forward to see how it develops,” Gran explains.
“Obviously it’s set against a very serious backdrop, with a woman who is terrified she will never see her husband and children again. But with us, things always end up having a humorous tinge because that’s our strength – or our weakness, depending on your point of view. It’s a bittersweet comedy, but I like the fact that it’s not easy to label.”
Any music fan will notice the play’s title, taken from the infamous Beatles song. Marks and Gran have previously created hits called Roll Over Beethoven and Get Back; The Fab Four, and the era they represent, are a huge influence on the duo’s writing.
“We were the right age at the right time to be in the Beatles generation,” Gran says.
“We often revisit the theme. In Get Back, every episode and every character had a Beatles influence. We have a Beatles moment in Love Me Do, which was thrilling to reproduce on stage. It’s surprisingly seminal still after all this time for both of us.”
Gran tells me about the musicals he has seen recently, including Once and Merrily We Roll Along. Music is clearly incredibly important to the pair’s work – and in Love Me Do, the eponymous song plays a huge part.
“It’s called Love Me Do because the song was released the week of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Gran says. “It’s meant to evoke the future. It’s a very innovative sort of song, but it’s also meant to be an escape from the terrible things that are going on. The song didn’t come first – but the fact that Love Me Do came out that week was one of the reasons we wanted to write the play.”
The men met at a Jewish youth club – does Judaism influence their work? After all, most Jewish writers nowadays can’t help but constantly reference bagels.
“In some ways, I think being Jewish has influenced us,” Gran says.
“Sometimes I think that the rhythms that we write are Jewish rhythms. I think what’s more important is that I grew up in a family where people told jokes constantly.
The people who told the best jokes got the biggest piece of cake!”
Initially, Marks worked as a journalist and Gran as a civil servant. Their lives would have been strikingly different had it not been for that fateful train journey – but Gran believes their previous working life prepared them to be writers.
“We brought the attitude of working life into our writing. We are organised and disciplined – we’re not lying around drinking brandy at 11am,” he says.
“That helped us succeed, because producers knew we were reliable.”
The duo have worked across such a vast spectrum of the media – which do they prefer? Gran modestly says: “We’ve been very lucky in our lives and careers, we haven’t had the aggravation that most writers suffer from.
We enjoy working across all media, but the pleasure of theatre is the pleasure of production. We appreciate the audience who have got dressed and gone out to see your work, not just switched on the TV. That’s very satisfying.”
My last question is what I’ve been dying to know the whole time. How did these two friends create such a prolific body of work without getting into myriad disagreements along the way?
“All comedy is two Jews fighting,” Gran laughs, and with that, goes back to writing his next play, TV show and musical with the partner he met all those years ago at the Jewish Lads’ Brigade.
• Love Me Do runs from 27 September to 18 October at Watford Palace Theatre, 20 Clarendon Road, Watford, WD17 1JZ. Details: www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk